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How Does Cold Weather Affect the Skin?

Certain skin issues develop or worsen in winter. Common skin issues in winter are usually the result of exposure to cold, dry outdoor air combined with indoor heating systems. The cold temperatures and low humidity of outdoor air draws moisture away from skin. The warm, dry air of indoor heating systems can worsen dry skin; rapidly-changing temperatures and harsh winter winds can also dry out your skin even more.

Left untreated, dry skin can crack or become red, raw, and inflamed. The cold, dry air of winter can also cause flare ups of several chronic skin conditions.

Common Skin Issues in Winter

Women with dry winter skin applying cream to her hand to provide moisture.

Common skin issues in winter can appear as soon as temperatures begin to drop and last until the first signs of spring.

Eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema causes dry, itchy, red, and irritated. It develops most often on the face, elbows, hands, and knees. A fragrance-free moisturizer can help ease the symptoms of eczema during winter; steroids may be needed in severe cases.

Psoriasis

Dry air and low levels of exposure to sunlight can trigger winter psoriasis, a condition in which the body produces too many skin cells. The buildup of skin cells causes dry, flaky, scaly patches to develop on the skin. Treatments may include using hydrocortisone, vitamin D and vitamin A creams.

Rosacea

Rosacea causes reddening, or “flushing,” of facial skin. While rosacea can develop at any time of the year, the cold and dry air of winter can trigger symptoms. Antibiotics, skin peels, and other treatments can help reduce the symptoms of rosacea. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, wine, cheese, yogurt, and spicy foods can help prevent a flare up of rosacea during winter.

Windburn

Cold, dry winds of winter can wick moisture from your skin to cause windburn, a skin irritation that causes dry, burning, red skin. Treatment for windburn involves replenishing moisture with lotions or creams. To avoid windburn, wear scarves, hats, coats with high collars, or other clothing that covers exposed skin.

Winter Rash

Winter rash is a common condition that causes dry, red, itchy, and flaky skin, usually on the hands and arms. Some people even develop cracked skin around their nails, on the sides of their fingers, or on their palms. Winter rash can be quite painful if skin cracks. Using fragrance-free moisturizer frequently can help soothe winter rash. Avoid this common skin condition by covering your hands whenever you go outside, avoiding hot water in the shower, and by using rubber gloves when washing dishes or cleaning.

How to Protect Your Skin in the Winter

Taking a few simple steps can help you protect your skin in the winter. Avoid taking hot baths or bathing too often, as hot water can cause your skin to lose natural moisturizing oils. Wearing protective clothing, such as hats, gloves, scarves, and warm coats can prevent the loss of moisture to the elements.

Moisturizing frequently with a fragrance-free, effective moisturizer is one of the best things you can do to help return some of the skin moisture lost to cold, dry air and wind. Consult with your dermatologist to determine if you have one of the many common skin problems in winter, and to learn the best moisturizer to protect your skin throughout the season.

For more information on these common skin issues and tips on how to protect your skin in winter, contact Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery. Our team of dedicated dermatology professionals can help you keep your skin looking and feeling its best all year long.